Saturday 22 October 2016

Cars: Volvo XC90 - Plugging into electric dreams

Hybrid charging key to low MPG

Published 24/04/2016 | 02:30

Better than other cars in most departments: Volvo XC90
Better than other cars in most departments: Volvo XC90

I'll be honest and say I was a bit disappointed the Volvo XC90 wasn't chosen as World Car of the Year. I voted for it in its category because I felt, of all the cars I'd driven, it was better in more departments.

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That is by no means to undermine the achievement of the loveable little Mazda MX-5 in taking the overall award. I'm delighted for the Japanese maker and those who will drive one.

The reason I really fancied the Volvo was simple. Volvo just made a great job of a totally new large luxury SUV for a family that can afford such a motor. And it really put it up to the perceived kingpins of that realm.

I will grant you, however, it is far from blemish-free, and in particular, it borders on moderate on handling, ride and driving verve if you compare it with the Audi Q7, BMW X5 or Range Rover Sport for example.

Yet the cabin/dash layout, use of space, how Volvo set out the three rows of seats (seven in all and good ease of access to the third row), the simplicity-of-use of the interactive screen (like an iPad), the comfort and ease-of-drive all set it apart for me and, I think, quite a few others.

I was reaffirmed in my conviction when I drove the plug-in petrol hybrid Twin Engine T8 version recently, though as is often the case on renewed acquaintance, there are areas that impressed me more and a few that had me a little disappointed.

But I wasn't fair to it on one major front and I might as well hold my hands up now.

The whole principle of a plug-in hybrid is that you can charge a battery pack that lets you, realistically, commute 25km/30km on electric power only. If that's your commuting range, it can mean your petrol engine never/seldom kicks in and your fuel bills are much lower as a result.

But it means you have to tune in to the mindset. You have to use the facility that allows you to plug in and charge up. Lazy old me used every excuse not to: it was cold and raining heavily; it was windy; I had pressing work to do; I'd be plugging in and out too often because I was on the go a lot; I'd come back out and plug it in as soon as I had a cup of tea.

Nonsense really. If I truly wanted to get as much as possible from this I should have just 'gone' for it. And that, at the risk of repeating myself, is the one thing you need to be sure of before you buy it. Be certain you will get the benefit of driving pure-electric for a good proportion of your daily drive; otherwise it's a waste of effort all round.

In my case, the plug-in flex (4.5m long with three-pin plug) lay neatly, lonely, in its slot in the boot. I know I'll get a roasting for this, but I use it by way of highlighting how you need to commit to the concept or just don't bother.

The T8 has a 2-litre petrol engine and an electric motor which work in tandem. There is no doubt you can manage serious consumption figures if you try.

I got a poor 45mpg or so but that was down to my driving, my lack of charging and disproportionate use of the engine. Keep it in B (boost) and you'll fare better.

But it is a wonderful concept - and not confined of course to Volvo as all the major makes are producing these now.

I had a lot of power in this T8: the supercharged 4cyl engine and the electric motor made it feel quick: a 0-100kmh time of 5.9 seconds is wonderful for such a large motor. And it is large. Maybe too big for some. Not for me.

After one long journey, I didn't feel the least bit tired. I'm convinced that had to do with the way they have worked on the cabin, seats, space and vision. I did have a crib about the gear shift to Reverse, Drive and Boost. I was never completely sure (crystal gear handle by the way) but got the hang of it.

Setting aside some disappointment at the handling and ride (go elsewhere if that's high on your priorities), I still think it is one of the great cars of the last two years.

Just make use of the plug-in facility in the T8 please. Otherwise buy the diesel.

Facts & figures

Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid 8spd auto, AWD, 7-seater large SUV; 2-litre petrol/electric motor (407PS); 49g/km, €170 road tax. From €90,662. Range from €63,450 (diesel).

Standard spec includes: cruise control, hill start assist, LED bending headlights, front fogs/cornering function; electric tailgate, two-zone climate control, leather-faced upholstery, huge spread of safety, 9ins centre console touchscreen, DAB Bluetooth, Sensus Connect, hard disc drive. Twin Engine versions have 12.3ins driver's info display, panoramic sunroof, third-row air con, four-zone climate control, 19ins alloys. Inscription adds: Nappa leather, 20ins alloys.

My side of the road

I don't want to drag on the phone-at-wheel issue but such is the volume of correspondence, it is warranted for this week anyway. If some people had their way, penalties would be much, much tougher. How about a six-month driving ban? Quite a proportion favoured it. Why? Because the gardai can't be everywhere, exemplary punishments are warranted. Maybe they're right?

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